Online and offline book retail is stable but brick-and-mortar book stores continue to show negative growth.
In the national book retail market of 2016H1, brick-and-mortar bookstores registered another negative YOY growth of -2.16% with slightly less retail aggregate fixed price than the same period of 2015. In contrast, online bookstores maintained a sound growth rate, especially third-party online book retail based on e-commerce platforms maintained fast growth in the scale of aggregate fixed price.
The different performances of online and offline bookstores has been an important phenomenon in the book retail market in recent years. Brick-and-mortar bookstores registered negative retail growth in 2012 and 2013, and 2014 and 2015 was an important period for their recovery, when online and offline book sales distribution was basically stable and brick-and-mortar bookstores entered a new stage of development amid various attempts such as “book mall upgrade” and “new business forms for bookstores”. But brick-and-mortar bookstores have a long way to go to adapt to readers’ changing consuming habits, meet more extensive cultural needs, and achieve sustained book retail growth.
YOY growth of brick-and-mortar bookstores in the first half of the year since 2013 is provided below:
In the national market, brick-and-mortar bookstores in East China and South Central China registered positive retail growth of 1.19% and 0.91% respectively, but those in North, Northeast and West China saw retail slip to varying degrees. In terms of the size of book malls and bookstores in cities of different levels, super large book malls faced great pressure in sales growth and large book malls in tier-1 and provincial capital cities achieved more than 2% YOY growth in 2016H1.
Performance by Category
Children’s books and literature maintain sound growth and educational reference books see conspicuous difference between online and offline sales.
Generally speaking, brick-and-mortar bookstores have more advantages in popular books and educational reference books for middle and primary school students sell very well too. In comparison, online book retail targets at adults who prefer online shopping, especially in price-sensitive categories such as children’s books, literature and exam-related books with little retail discount.
In terms of market structure, educational reference, literary and children’s books maintained large scale of aggregate fixed price, all three of which took up more than 50% in brick-and-mortar bookstores and close to 50% in online bookstores. But educational reference books took up an obviously larger share in aggregate fixed price in brick-andmortar bookstores than in online ones, while the situation was exactly the opposite for children’s books.
Compared with the same period of last year, literature, children’s books, biography and social science books maintained positive growth in brick-and-mortar bookstores in 2016H1. Among them, biographies achieved a YOY growth of 4.64% thanks to the hot sales of books by famous writers, and literature and children’s books achieved YOY growth of 2.26% and 0.20% respectively. Some book categories, such as art and technology, registered negative retail growth in brick-andmortar bookstores because of the structural diversion of retail channels and the category’s highly professional nature and consequently fixed demand. Some categories, such as language, life and recreation, registered negative growth because of sales diversion by emerging new media products.
Apart from novels, an adult cartoon titled Crazy! Kwai Boo XV is on the list of the top 30 bestselling fictions in 2016H1. Many classic and imported books rank high on the list, and sci-fi and healing books are also on the list continuing their strong momentum in 2015.
The fiction list includes classic works such as My Childhood, Rickshaw Boy and Jane Eyre , which are not only “standing books” in bookstores for their everlasting charm, but are also recommended by many schools and parents. There are also books that have been in hot sales for many years, such as The Kite Runner, The Miracle in the Grocery Store and Journey Under the Midnight Sun , all regulars in fiction list and classics in their respective genre. Ferryman and The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry are foreign bestsellers and they maintained great sales performance in 2016H1. Before coming to the Chinese market, they already swept over many book lists worldwide, and after they came to this market, they immediately achieved and sustained great sales volume thanks to promotion on social network and We Media among target groups and excellent reputation.
The Three-Body Problem series continued the strong momentum in 2015 and all the three books are among top 10. The movie adapted from the series has captured a lot of attention since it was announced last year, but the producer announced in June this year that the movie that was originally scheduled to be screened in July had to be postponed, without giving any specific screening time. This greatly disturbed fans of The Three-Body Problem and Weibo was overflowing with relevant information at that time. In the meantime, the opera adapted from the series also began promotion before hitting the stage. It is said that the opera will re-present 85% of the descriptions in the book vividly, which has undoubtedly drawn more attention to the series.
Quiet House and Dragon Raja series continued good sales. Both being based on magazine serials, they are easy to understand with cliffhanging plots and represent the two most popular styles among the post-90s and post- 00s readers today. Dragon Raja is westernstyle fantasy combining magic, academy, dragon hunting and other adventurous elements, while Quiet House is Chinese-style fantasy that tells stories of love and hate through history inscribed on antiques. The exciting Dragon Raja and the reserved Quiet House are both so successful because they cater to the psychological needs of adolescents and give them something that they sympathize with.
Crazy! Kwai Boo XV , the latest addition in 2016H1 to the Crazy! Kwai Boo series is also on the fiction list. As one of the bestselling adult cartoons in China today, Crazy! Kwai Boo’s annual additions have all sold very well. Yang Jiang, famous writer and translator in China, was widely known as Qian Zhongshu’s wife. After she passed away, the intensive publicity by the media and activities held by bookstores largely boosted the sales of Fortress Besieged , the masterpiece by Qian Zhongshu, and both versions of it are among the top 30 in the fiction list of 2016H1.
Healing stories created by new-generation writers are still strong in the market and take important positions on the list. Books like Just for Meeting You and I Belonged to You are full of positive energy and give people confidence, courage, love and the will and strength to keep on in today’s fast-paced and highpressure life. They meet the innermost needs of modern urbanites, which explains their exceptional sales volume.
Literature remains the backbone of bestsellers and takes up 16 spots in the top 30 nonfiction list of 2016H1, followed by biographies that take up 7 spots. Other categories such as academic and cultural, psychological selfhelp, economic management, arts and natural science take 1 or 2 spots each.
Among books of prose and essays, classic ones such as Lung Ying-tai’s Seeing Off (Colorful Illustration Edition) and Child, Take Your Time (Colorful Illustration Edition), Yu Qiuyu’s The Agonized Journey of Culture (Enlarged Edition) and San Mao’s The Story of the Sahara remained in hot sales. Established writers like Liu Tong and Yang Lan published new books in the first half of the year - Liu’s Toward the Light and Yang’s Still in Love , and Yuan Ziwen and Yuan Zihao published their new healing series Be Together. Biography about women takes up important positions on the list. Park Geun-hye’s Adversity Refines Me: The Biography of Park Geun-hye has been on the list for almost three full years since it was published in May 2013, so is Liu Xiaoqing’s Rise from the Ashes , and Chai Jing’s What I Have Seen is a phenomenal bestseller.
Gao Ming’s Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Complete Edition) is a new edition with 10 new chapters that were not included in the previous one. In January 2010, Gao Ming published the first book of interviews with mental patients in China titled Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right, which has been in hot sales ever since and sold millions already thanks to its original contents and the peculiar world outlook and unusual feelings it presents to readers. Some commented that many people feel goose bumps when reading this book because they find recognition in the world of lunatics. The booming IP development of the book has also boosted its sales volume.
The movie Book of Love screened on April 29, 2016 made 84, Charing Cross Road popular, a book that tells the letter-based love story between New York writer Helena and old London bookstore owner Frank. They never met each other in 20 years, but their romance never stopped despite the long distance in time and space. Later the author Helena published a book out of their letters. Today 84, Charing Cross Road is translated into tens of languages and has touched countless readers around the world.
Yang Jiang’s Us Three and Us Three (New Hardback Edition) are both on the list of nonfiction bestsellers in 2016H1. Through loving and moving stories, she proved that family is always the best shelter. After she passed away, WeChat Moments are filled with “cloud condolences”, and she became the latest public icon and the top choice of topic in all We Media articles. We have seen only too often how powerful social network can be in publicity, and within a few days, even people who never heard of Yang Jiang before knew quite a lot about this master and many readers who never read her books before wanted to read one now.
As young readers’ favorite, inspirational books have been very popular in recent years, and youth movies are also well received by the post-80s and post-90s. Liu Tong’s No One Is Not Confused When He/She Is Young series are on the list. When his new book Toward the Light was published in the first half of this year, Liu attended a number of book-signing events that were pursued by a lot of fans. At the end of April, the namesake inspirational movie adapted from Liu Tong’s No One Is Not Confused When He/She Is Young was screened. The extensive publicity events such as movie screening and book signing drove up the popularity and influence of Liu Tong and the book, which, combined with the popularity and influence of Liu’s previous books, pushed his new book Toward the Light to the top spot of the list in the same month it was published, and it ranked 4th in the half-year list. Toward the Light is about the struggles of youth and a bystander’s observation of the ups and downs of life. When we were young, we all felt lonely and lost, but there was always the light of hope at the end of the tunnel.
The top 30 list of bestselling children’s books includes 29 literary books and 1 book under the category of cartoon/comic/picture books, namely Adventures of Sanmao the Orphan (Complete Edition) (Colorful Illustration with Pinyin). As more bestselling series are published, there are more series on the list, leaving fewer opportunities for other types of books. The DODOMO series take up 15 spots and The Diary of a Smiling Cat series take up 3 spots in the top 30 list for brickand-mortar bookstores.
There are many classic books on the list of children’s books, including The Little Girl at the Window , Grass House , Dream of King Wolf and Pippi Longstocking , all of which are in the basic reading list for primary school students in China, and what they have in common is “being classic”. As children grow up, the reader base of children’s books varies every year, but their reading preference has little to do with social trend, and classic books that have stood the test of time are always popular among children. Those books pay more attention to children’s mental growth and help them cultivate their character and acquire basic knowledge, while also being artistically exceptional and interesting to read. No wonder they remain popular generation after generation.
Apart from classic books, other children’s books on the list are mostly serials, indicating that “serialization” and “brand” have become major factors for being listed in this category. Whenever a new book is added to a serial, the previous popularity will quickly put the new one on the list. The DODOMO in Wonderland series and The Diary of a Smiling Cat series launched new volumes in March, and like their predecessors, the new additions entered the list the second month after they were published. Serialization is no fresh topic in the book market and we can find examples of serial bestsellers in all categories, but the market of children’s books definitely features the highest level of serialization and the most serial bestsellers. Publishers don’t know which book is going to be a bestseller, and publishing it in series can largely increase the chance of it becoming a bestseller. When that happens, the publisher gains a lot of experience which, when applied to a new book, makes it more likely to become a bestseller too. From Tiger Team ten years ago to today’s DODOMO in Wonderland series, the latter learns a lot from the former regarding content, binding and layout design. This is an important reason why the DODOMO in Wonderland series is so popular the minute it hit the market.
Native creation still prevails in the 2016H1 list of children’s books. For example, books by famous writers such as Yang Hongying, Cao Wenxuan, Leon Image Works and Shen Shixi have long been popular among millions upon millions of children. In the age when bestseller takes all, the reputation of the author is, without any doubt, the guarantee for sales volume. Compared with foreign writers, Chinese writers are more familiar with the situation in China and can more comprehensively and deeply understand the readers’ needs, so their works can better appeal to children. Moreover, Chinese writers are more cooperative in marketing and publicity. Therefore, branding for native writers and development of creation resources will be the future priority for the sustained development of children’s book market.
By Long Yingtai
By Gao Ming
By Bai Yansong
By Yang Jiang
By Da Bing
By Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee
By Liu Tong
By Publicity and Education Bureau of the Central Propaganda Department
By Helence Hanff
By Da Bing